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This 'Brita filter' for the air could be the low cost solution for getting rid of greenhouse gases

A factory emitting plumes of smoke at sunset.
Image Credit: Unsplash/Mark Piwniki

"Think of our technology as a Brita filter that captures [carbon dioxide] from the air," explains Josh Santos, the co-founder of the two-year old startup, Noya PBC that hopes to be the next thing in the multi-billion carbon offset market.

Noya is part of a wave of startups that are hoping to bring down the cost and improve the efficiency of direct air capture, a process that takes the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide out of the air and either sells it to a buyer for use or permanently stores the gas underground.

According to the UN's latest report on combating climate change, technologies like Noya's are going to be necessary to keep the world from extreme warming.

It may not sound like a lot, but the average temperature of the world has already warmed by nearly a degree over the last one hundred years. And that warming has increased the number of extreme weather events around the world and made those events much more severe.

Now, governments around the world are spending billions to develop technologies that can take the greenhouse gases that cause global warming out of the atmosphere -- and companies are paying millions of dollars to companies offering these carbon removal services to offset the emissions from their operations.

In fact, Noya even changed its original business plan to take advantage of new benefits available in the U.S. created by the Inflation Reduction Act.

Initially, Noya was going to site smaller direct air capture units with the cooling towers at industrial sites to create a network of smaller, distributed carbon capture resources.

Now, according to Santos, the company is going to build its own large systems to take advantage of incentives created by the IRA.

"The IRA is too good of an opportunity for us not to leverage it as much as we can," Santos said.

What makes Noya PBC's systems different from other direct air capture technologies is its use of activated carbon -- the same material in Brita filters that purify water -- and a proprietary agent the company developed to capture carbon dioxide, according to Santos.

The bigger names in carbon capture -- Carbon Engineering, Climeworks, and CarbonCapture -- all use specialty chemicals and capture systems that require a lot of heat to release the CO2 they've absorbed.

Santos said that the use of activated carbon as the scaffolding for the company's chemical agents, means that it costs less for Noya to release the Co2 caught in the scaffolds.

"Almost every other form of DAC requires some big piece of equipment to get energy into the captured CO2. The only reason CO2 is captured because it wants to be captured it has some inherent reactivity with some material. To actually perform the step of releasing CO2..; you have to input energy," Santos said. "We can funnel electricity directly through the activated carbon itself... and when we run electricity through the material it heats up and when the material heats up the CO2 releases and gives us a pure stream of CO2."

Noya PBC will built its first commercial demonstration plant this year next to a site already selected for CO2 injection and permanent sequestration, Santos said.

That first system expects to capture around 350 tons of the greenhouse gas, at roughly one ton per day. It's an amount of CO2 that is nowhere near close enough to make a difference in overall emissions released into the atmosphere, but it's a start.

"We as a society need to scale up as much carbon removal as we humanly can and I think that there are lots of ways to do it right and there are lots of ways to compromise the bigger role here," Santos said.

A slew of big investors agree with him. Some of the venture firms backing Noya include USV (prominent early investors in Twitter, Etsy, Lending Club, Duolingo, Coinbase and Cloudflare), and Collab Fund (backers of Lyft, Sweetgreen, and Beyond Meat).

"Carbon removal is critical for the planet to meet its climate targets," said Fred Wilson, Managing Partner at Union Square Ventures, in a statement. "We believe direct air capture can become the leading way to perform carbon removal, and Noya's low capex, high modularity process can become the leading direct air capture approach. USV is thrilled to support Noya through its future scale-up and growth."

Noya already has some customers for its offsets. A large university endowment just became a buyer, joining the massive online retail company Shopify and the carbon accounting and management startup Watershed.

With $11 million bucks of newly raised capital in the bank, the company is ready to expand its team and refine its technology.

"At Collab, our mission has always been to bring planet-improving technologies out of the lab and into the mainstream," said Sophie Bakalar, Partner at Collaborative Fund, in a statement. "What Noya is doing is building a technological foundation for global sustainable change. DAC is one of the most promising pathways to scale affordable, high-quality CDR, and they're scaling this technology at a rate we've never seen before. We're excited to be working alongside them and Fred as we embark on what is a truly world changing climate journey."


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